See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil

The famed pictorial maxim conquers fashion

The three monkeys, a pictorial maxim of Japanese Shintoism, has been adopted by Dolce&Gabbana as a theme for the Summer 2016 men’s collection prints.

For the Summer 2016 menswear collection, the creative imagination of Dolce&Gabbana has looked East. From the dramatic Sicilian Chinoiserie prints which characterised the colourful Summer 2016 fashion show, to the demure images of bids perched on branches in bamboo groves, or citrus friut trees or monkeys galavanting in their natural habitats. These images and inspirations hail from the East. Prints of colourful birds are a common chinoiserie theme, while the three monkeys, are more of a symbol than an aesthetic tradition.

The proverb “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” derives from a pictorial maxim deeply rooted in the Shintoist culture of Japan. Above the door of the Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Japan (just north of Tokyo), a 17th century carving depicts 3 monkeys, one covering its eyes, the second its ears and the third its mouth. But Mizaru, covering his eyes, who sees no evil; Kikazaru, covering his ears, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, covering his mouth, who speaks no evil, unite different religions and countries in the East, as well as having become a popular maxim in the west too.

Hidari Jingoro, the sculptor of the Shinto shrine in Nikkō is believed to have incorporated Confucius’s Code of Conduct, using the monkey (an important symbol in Japan) as a way to depict man’s life cycle, and of the 8 panels the one with the three monkeys has become the most famous. In fact, in Chinese, a similar phrase exists in the Analects of Confucius from 2nd to 4th century B.C.: “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety”, which is likely to be the origin of the three monkeys and the proverb so popular today.

The choice of referencing this maxim, and its iconic protagonists, the monkeys, is not by chance – 2016 is the Lunar Year of the Monkey, and the animal is celebrated throughout the Orient.

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